Monday, January 07, 2008

Fracture gets worse: The Body of Anglicanism in shattered parts

A reflection from Peter Toon

The announcements (a) that the Provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Southern Cone of S.A., with the archdiocese of Sydney, are sponsoring a Conference (Gafcon) in Israel in June 2008, and (b) that the Bishops of these Provinces will not be going to the Lambeth Conference in July 2008 means that the Global Anglican Communion is severely fractured.

Now it is not merely the fact that these Provinces have declared themselves out of Eucharistic communion with most of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church (and some of the dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada?), it is also, and most significantly, that they have taken the extraordinary and final step of declaring themselves out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (and via him with the Church of England). And they appear to be calling for a separation in the Church of England which places the “orthodox” and the “revisionists” in different camps.

They are in fact saying that the Ecclesia Anglicana, the ancient Church of England, with its roots back in English history to the Roman occupation and the Patristic period, and the roots and trunk from which the world-wide tree of the Churches of the Anglican Family have grown, is now sufficiently apostate so as to place a moral urgency on those who count themselves the new guardians of orthodoxy (the branches of the tree) to secede from fellowship with it—or at least from its revisionist bishops and clergy.

The issue is now no longer the innovatory sexual ethics of The Episcopal Church of the USA and its support for Gene Robinson; it is a much bigger and serious matter—orthodoxy versus apostasy; truth versus error; and right doctrine versus revisionism.

For those of us who have commended and defended The Anglican Way and have promoted with zeal and joy its historic Formularies and Reformed Catholic traditions, this is—to put it mildly— a time of great sorrow and sadness, pain and grief!

We had hoped that the Lambeth Conference July 2008 would have been the venue where some of the problems and divisions of the Anglican Family could have been addressed under the presidency of a revigorated and determined Archbishop Rowan, and by the grace of God, some renewal and healing, with repentance, achieved. But this is not to be and we enter a period of uncertainty and maybe chaos especially in North America.

How did we get to this point?

Since the end of the Second World War, the global Anglican Communion has endured various fractures—like many of us do in life from broken fingers, to broken wrists, to fractured bones—and has until the present time seen them healed or learned to live with them.

Let me remind ourselves of some of them:

1. The introduction of alternative forms of service from the 1960s to exist alongside the classic Book of Common Prayer. These new liturgies were developed not as a common Anglican enterprise so as to unite all in the same way as the BCP had done, but in and by individual provinces. Thus the forms of service differed and they have continued to differ to the present day between Provinces, even as hundreds of them have been produced and discarded. The worship of the Anglican Way has been severely fractured not by one major break but by hundreds of small cracks.
2. The introduction of the ordination of women from the 1970s into some provinces. This had the effect of causing impaired communion between dioceses and dioceses and provinces and provinces. Eventually the Anglican doctrine of Reception was created to try to deal with this fracture and hold people together. But the fracture is there constantly being treated and new bandages applied.
3. The acceptance of the reality of the divorce culture (especially in North and South America) and the accommodation of Churches to this, by allowing increasingly the remarriage of divorcees in church and, more radically, the allowing of divorced and remarried priests to function as pastors and even as bishops. This fracturing of the sexual ethic of the Bible, Tradition and historic Canon Law, has had many effects, one of which is the opening of the doors to the more radical sexual ethic—rights to personal satisfaction to “gays” and the blessing of same-sex partnerships.
4. The widespread acceptance not only of natural and civil rights but also human rights. The latter know no limit and have become the basis of morality for many Christians with the biblical commandments read in the light of them rather than the other way round. Human rights, coupled with individualism and modern concepts of freedom and liberty, lessen the readiness to work for common goals; instead they cause the assertion of preferences and needs. Unity, or promotion of unity, in the Church is fractured, and people think that divisions are normal and acceptable.
5. The application of human rights and the therapeutic culture of the West to the personal needs and satisfactions of individual human beings—e.g., a man and woman living together and two people of the same sex living together in partnership. In both cases a major aim is to fulfill felt needs such as sexual, companionship etc. This fractures families and Christian congregations and it is on the increase.
6. The way that the Bible is studied and theology pursued and understood in the theological seminaries and theological colleges fractures the Church. There is so little sense of a common Faith, or even of unity between the Old and New Testaments, and this means that there is so great a sense of the variety of opinion in many of these institutions that this ethos must be, and is, divisive in the long term.
7. The lack of respect for geographical boundaries shown by Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Cone in their permanent invasion of North America and their short planned invasion of Israel in June 2008. This is like breaking a limb of a family member.

Several comments are perhaps appropriate:
a. It will be instructive to see whether the Provinces, which are breaking Communion with Canterbury and Ecclesia Anglicana, will change their Name in order to reflect their claimed abandonment of apostasy in Ecclesia Anglicana and to signify their new life and mission as no longer Anglicans. Will they call themselves, Episcopal or…?
b. It will also be instructive to see how quickly they realize that what they actually call “Orthodoxy” is in fact (in comparative terms) a mild form of “revisionism.” That is, it is not the full orthodoxy of the Reformed Catholic Faith of the historic Anglican Formularies but it is at best “orthodoxy-lite” for it makes accommodation to various novel doctrines and practice such as women’s ordination, ordination and deployment of divorced and remarried clergy and so on.
c. It will also be instructive to see whether they are able to devise ways of autonomy for provinces with a genuine inter-dependence between them, as has been the ideal of the Anglican Family, and at the same time find of a way of disciplining erring provinces. In addition, will they handle invasions into their midst from the old Anglican Communion seeking to recover lost members?
d. Finally, it will be instructive to watch the situation in the USA where right now there are so many forms of parallel jurisdictions of would-be orthodox “Anglicans.” Will they unite and if so how? Will they drop the name Anglican and recover that of Episcopal?

I sincerely wish I did not have to live through these times and with these and other questions!

The new orthodox see what is happening as revival and renewal of the Church. People like me who seek to be orthodox cannot be so certain.

Dr Peter Toon Holy Innocents’ Day December 28, 2007

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